The tyranny of the timetable

“06553 (469) 24-11-1986 Passenger Bulletin Board (timetable) at the Railway Station at San Pablo, Laguna, Philippines.” by express000 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Scheduling and the creation of timetables is a fantastically complex task in the world of increasing degree options. But it is also one of those things we take for granted, and don’t question its implications. James Clay wrote about creating more flexible, smart timetables that adapt to student needs, but even this has the lecture/class as an assumption.

It has struck me during the pivot how much the lecture is still the default model, and the effort has largely gone in to shifting this online. This would seem to me a missed opportunity for a number of reasons (many pedagogic), one of which is that it recreates the tyranny of the timetable. One of the consequences is that inter/multidisciplinary study is necessarily restricted. While there are agreed electives and joint honours, these are tightly controlled because otherwise the complexity of timetabling escalates rapidly.

There are frequent calls to increase multidisciplinary thinking, research, skills and teams to solve complex problems in health, crime, climate change, etc. Yet the ability to realise these skills is limited by restrictions we are busily recreating in online learning. This has been exacerbated during the pandemic when face to face institutions have been attempting to limit cross-bubble transfer of cohorts.

If, however, you embrace more asynchronous study modes then, logistically, all combinations become possible. It may not be appropriate to have all of these as there are prerequisites, and considerations about students being adequately prepared, but the primary limitation is no longer just a practical one based on physical limitations. The Open Programme at the OU allows for students to create their own pathways through our largely independent modules, which can be studied in sequence or simultaneously, because they are not attempting to align a rich matrix of synchronous events. This also gives power and agency to students rather than these choices being determined by an excel spreadsheet.

I appreciate that all HEIs won’t become asynchronous distance ed providers, but now that we’ve had to rethink education provision, simply replicating the lecture model with its inherent limitations would be a shame, and multidisciplinary richness would be one casualty.

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